Chrome OS Needs to Merge with Android

Posted Saturday March 9, 2013 at 9:05:56 pm in Technology

Chrome OS needs to merge with Android to be taken seriously. 

Right now Chrome OS and its Chromebook family are relegated to cheap products (see: $250-$350) for consumers. Anything above that price point (see Chromebook Pixel) aren't taken seriously as there are much more capable options out there: any Windows laptop, Windows tablet, Android tablet, iOS tablet, etc. Hell, maybe even an Ubuntu laptop!

The Pixel is an intriguing product, but mostly from an aesthetic standpoint: it has an absolutely beautiful display contained in a gorgeous minimalist shell. The problem comes when you take something like the Samsung Chromebook ($250) and compare it to the Pixel ($1,300). The Pixel is 5 times more expensive but doesn't do anything different than the Samsung outside of a (lackluster) touchscreen. It feels a lot more premium and has a much better screen, but really Google appears to be trying to change Chrome OS's image. Consumers and the media really only give Chrome OS a chance when its attached to a product with netbook like pricing. Afterall, this is why I asked "Are Chromebooks the new Ubuntu Laptops?" Everyone (outside of the buyers [and even some buyers]) are scoffing at the price. This is largely a result of such factors as on board storage (only 32GB), poor battery life (5 hours or less), a lackluster touch experience, and...Chrome OS. 

Chrome OS is *supposed* to be light weight. It's supposed to be like Windows Phone (it doesn't need top notch hardware to run smoothly). But the Pixel is rocking a Core i5 processor. Prior to the Pixel all of the Chromebooks were running ancient (in processor speak) processors to keep the price down. It was about adoption. By nearly *all* marketshare reports Chrome OS isn't even registering at all. Retail machines have been out since May 2011 (nearly 2 years ago). Apparently with the new hardware and updated Chrome OS in the later half of 2012, Chrome OS and the Chromebook family is supposedly getting traction (relative, of course). But is it enough?

Pundits have largely laughed at Chrome OS. It was (is) a niche OS relegated to cheap hardware with a very limited set of functionality. They questioned Google's motives. After all, the world still isn't always connected..and when it is it's not very reliable or fast. Maybe this is why Google is trying their best at pushing Google Fiber

Since the release of Chrome OS to the wild in December of 2010, Chrome OS has went from looking like a browser to looking at something like a marriage of Windows 7 and OS/X (with the Chrome OS build released in April 2012). Google wasn't very imaginative when it came to the UI. This is most likely a function of trying to get users used to the idea of an alternative OS....but only if it looked like the others! 

So, what can Google do to make Chrome OS more acceptable to the population? The Pixel is a beautiful, overpriced joke. The cheaper Chromebooks are less functional netbooks running on old hardware. If only they had an OS that was somewhat capable that didn't rely on always on connectivity with a mostly robust selection of apps.

But, wait...they do. Of course that OS is Android, and whilst it's still a very immature tablet OS, it has gotten exponentially better over the years and sports a mature application catalog.

There was talk years ago that Chrome OS and Android would merge. This isn't unusual. After all Apple has been trying to iOSize OS/X with minimal fanfare. Microsoft released Windows 8 with the idea of a single/similar UI for all form factors (phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, console, etc.) But the difference between Microsoft/Apple and Google? Microsoft and Apple have very mature and capable OS's in Windows and OS/X. Most would agee (and I'm one of them) that Chrome OS is half baked with a limited set of functionality. After all, if the web wasn't capable enough to hold off native applications, what makes Google think the web could hold off desktop OS's? That future is inevitable (and preferred), but we're not there....yet (as a developer I want it here ASAP, but correctly...). 

So, back to this merge. It needs to happen otherwise Chrome OS may never get anything more than a "Hey, it's not Windows or OS/X, let's try it! It's cheap!" With the Pixel it appears Google is trying their hand at a touchscreen build of Chrome OS, but it's reminiscent of the touch days of Windows 7 (and previous versions). You know, a non touch OS trying to shoe horn touch overlays. The difference, of course, being that Windows 7 was a mature and stable platform. The touch functionality in the Chrome OS build for Pixel is very young and not quite ready for prime time.

But is it telling us something? I think it's telling us that Google wants touch in Chrome OS. But not for its current implementation. No, so it can implant in the minds of buyers that Chrome OS *can* have touch and work well...eventually. But not at this stage.

It also tells us that Google should be (is) prepping for a Chrome OS/Android merge. What this means is that Google will steal Canonical's thunder (i.e. one UI for all platforms). And it also means it'll be the first competitor against Microsoft for a platform that works on desktop, laptop, tablet, console, etc. That should be a very exciting proposition for Google.

...and I'd imagine it's what they're shooting for. It's just going to take time. And it's also a matter of principle. Is Google married to the idea of a truly web technology driven app platform like Chrome OS? Or are they okay with a hybrid a la Windows 8?

But hey, maybe that's why they have this chrome Android statue on campus:

Chrome Android Statue

It's a fairly obvious OS name, but how about Chrome Android?

Yeah, catchy. 

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view